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The dove and the thief

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The sunset was magnificent, red orange and yellow colours exploding across the sky. She loved the sunset, even though it meant the end of the day. The end of one day didn’t have to be bad, as it also meant a fresh start, or as fresh as possible in the town she was in. She pulled the shawl tighter around her shoulders, the warmth of the day disappearing with the sun. That was one of the perks by living higher up the hill, they had light far longer than the ones in the town.

The laughter of a girl broke through her peaceful state, her gentleman caller must have said something funny, or maybe he was tickling her, like some liked to do. A faint grunting noise was heard from another room as they were enjoying each other’s company. Lydia knew the man was married, but it didn’t bother her as it was her job to make money, and it was their choice to cheat. As soon as anyone entered Lotta’s fun house, they were a customer, and Lydia tried her hardest to give them exactly what they wanted. Lotta, the woman who originally owned the establishment before Lydia, moved away two years earlier, as she opened a saloon in a bigger town. Lydia was one of the girls, or doves as they were also called, back then, and decided to buy the fun house with the inheritance she was left after her mother died.

Even though she had money to buy the establishment she still struggled at times, and if she didn’t have a friend like Allison Argent, the granddaughter of the sheriff in town, her girls would have starved a few months earlier. The Argent’s were rich, and the Sheriff helped her when she really needed it, lending her the money she needed to keep the girls fed and safe. The Sheriff liked her, which was why he helped her in other ways as well, like taking care of customers who refused to listen, or tried to take more than they paid for. She didn’t know him as well as she knew the rest of the family, as he’d moved there some years earlier, but he was good to her.

She could see the sheriff in the distance, his bald head glistening in the pale light as he walked up the road which lead to her establishment, his two guards following him, ready to protecting him if needed. Knowing what he wanted, she turned away from the window and went to fetch the the money in the drawer downstairs. It was ordinary taxes that was demanded by everyone in town.

Lydia was already waiting besides the door when they knocked, pulling the shawl tighter around her blue dress. Opening the door she smiled as sweetly as she could. “Good evening Sheriff,” she greeted.

“Good evening to you as well. I assume everything is well tonight.” Almost as if to show him just how well things were a girl screamed loudly, but not out of pain. The next that happened was that a door flung open and she ran half naked through the hallway, followed by an equally half naked man.

“Yes, everything is perfectly well,” she said, avoiding the stares from Gerard’s men. However, their looks were nothing compared to the ones Gerard had as he stared at her. She was used to men wanting her, but there was something else with the way he watched her, as if he did more than desire her. “Here is the payment,” she said and handed him the bank notes. Instead of simply leaving with the notes he grabbed her hand and pulled it up to his lips, kissing it lightly.

“Always a pleasure,” he said and smiled. Lydia acted as if it didn’t bother her, but she couldn’t help wanting to pull her hand out of his grip and close the door in his face. She didn’t trust him, and it had nothing to do with his age, or looks, as she had been with older men, and even uglier men. He released her hand shortly after, then put his hat on and left with a big grin. Lydia stayed still a few seconds, as if his smile had turned her into stone. Once she was able to move again she closed the door and went to look at the schedule for the girls, as the next day was Friday, as well as payday, which meant full house.

After adding a few notes she was ready to take a well deserved break, so she found a book which she thought was interesting. Some guests believed the books were simply decorations, as the themes of the books were not something they expected a woman to read, like the one Lydia held in her hand, which was about the human body and different illnesses that had been documented. It wasn’t one of the easiest reads, but it had some interesting information she thought was good to know. Her mind was hungry for knowledge, and after living in the same town her whole life, she needed something to keep herself occupied with.

When the clock struck eleven that evening she put the book down next to the reading lamp, and too her round through the house, knocking on the girls’ bedrooms, telling them that if the men wished to stay the night they had to pay. Some did, while others slowly dressed themselves and left.

It was due to Lydia’s determination to change the reputation of the establishment that they rarely faced problems like men who didn’t pay, or men who endangered the lives of the girls working there. Lotta was good, but she mostly cared about profit, which often put the girls at risk, or which exhausted them as Lotta didn’t think they needed to rest between their customers. It wasn’t until much later that Lydia also discovered just what a large cut Lotta took from the payment for their services.

Everything changed when Lydia took over, and while the girls had to help out far more often, they were given better conditions, and higher payments, so none of them really complained. They could hire cleaners, but the ones she found actually willing to clean their establishment wanted a far higher price because of their business.

Tired after a long day, she climbed into her large and comfortable bed, pulling the layers of blankets around herself, loving the heat they provided. She yawned once, and before she was aware of it, fell into a deep sleep.

The next morning began just like the previous ones. She woke up, washed herself with the clean cold water in her room, and went to check on the girls. It was stupid to think of them as her girls, as at least half of them were even older than she was, but it was an expression she learned from Lotta, who --even though she took far more than she should have-- cared about them in her own way. The men who stayed the night was offered breakfast, for an extra coin, which most accepted as it cost just as much as in town.

Lydia was ready to begin a new day, which she believed would be just as uneventful as the previous days. She was unaware of the changes that would come riding in on the east wind, which would stir up the way everyone lived.

It was around lunch time that she saw the strangers for the first time. They were two, riding in on black horses which matched their dark clothes, their hats pulled down over their faces, and the bottom of their face hidden behind a bandanna. She watched them as they rode past the brothel and continued into the town, looking as if they had a goal. Except for their mysterious behaviour there wasn’t much difference between them and the rest of the men in the town, but Lydia couldn’t help feeling as if not everything was right.

She pushed the two strangers out of her mind as she had far more important things to worry about, like setting up a schedule for that day, trying to please the men’s requests. All of the girls wanted customers that night, even though some of them had even two customers the previous day. Slowly the guests arrived, paying for the girls they wanted, then waiting until everything was set.

It began to darken outside when Lydia filled her bag with banknotes from the safe, she needed to place an order in town, and while there were some she trusted, she wanted to do it herself. Luckily for her she had someone who helped her watch the counter twice a week during those evenings, when Lydia needed a break from the establishment. He was a simple man, who didn’t mind giving an extra hand, for a silver coin that was.

Holding the clutch close to her chest she walked in a fast and determined pace down the road, knowing she had fifteen minutes before she was safe in the shop. She wasn’t afraid for robbers attacking her, but losing the money meant the girls would suffer as well, and that was something she wasn’t willing to do. Of course, she could rush off to the sheriff and ask for help, but she wanted to limit her contact between herself and that man. She could hear a few horses neigh in the distance, but the only person she heard was herself, her shoes clicking against the ground, and the hem of her dress brushing against the dirty path.

By the time she reached the shop it was completely dark outside, but she made it. The two men standing behind the counter watched her suspiciously, as they always did. She didn’t know the boy that well, as they had barely talked together when they were younger, as she had many friends back then, and she was two years older. The man, however, was old and grumpy, who wasn’t afraid of showing his distaste for anyone who he didn’t think behaved properly, and she was one of the worst. As she was used to his nasty behaviour, she got better at pretending she didn’t notice.

Pulling out a list from her clutch, she gave them her order of everything her establishment needed, anything from eggs and flour, to perfume and soap. They wrote down the order and gave her the price, which she paid for at once, as well as the order to be delivered the next day, or as soon as some of the missing orders arrived into town. The older man stared at the money on the counter as if it was contagious, leaving the younger boy to handle it. Lydia wanted to roll her eyes, but instead smiled and acted as is he hadn’t noticed, thanked them and left.

Once outside the shop she walked towards the saloon, as she still had a few hours left before she needed to return to her home. The saloon was smoke-filled, loud and smelly, everything the fun house wasn’t. She smiled as she entered the room, greeting two men who drunkenly rose their arms as they recognised her. Unlike the old shopkeeper, most people in the town treated her with some respect. She knew they whispered about her behind her back, but she decided years earlier that no matter what they said she would continue to hold her head high and do whatever her heart desired. Luckily most men she’d slept with were no longer in town.

One of the saloon girls gave her a nasty look, while another greeted her politely. The women were far more threatened by her than the men were, as they feared she would deliberately steal their sweethearts, or tempt their husbands, as blaming her for their problems were far easier than trying to please their own men.

She moved between the tables which were occupied by men playing cards, or men who was so drunk they forgot where they lived. She kindly greeted the ones who took their time looking at her, and tried not to disturb the ones occupied.

“What will it be?” the bartender asked as she made her way to his counter.

“A little rum,” she said as she smiled, loving the energy in the room, even though half the people were almost blacked out. The piano played in the background, and someone were singing, badly, but their energy was contagious. Laughter and chatter spread through the room, and people got up off their chairs to dance.

Lydia turned to watch the spectacle, but her attention was caught by someone else, one of the strangers. He was sitting in the shadow, his black clothes making him even less noticeable as colourful dresses moved around him, most men in town wore more colours than the he did. Feeling slightly uncomfortable being caught staring, she moved her gaze away from the stranger, but her eyes were back on him within a few seconds, watching him as he watched her. While being stared at wasn’t unusual, there was something different with the way he did it, as if she possessed something he craved. His eyes burned into her until her skin felt cold and warm at the same time.

She turned, facing the bar, but even then she could feel his eyes on her, undressing her in the most seductive way. She released a small moan while closing her eyes, somehow imagining him caressing her neck. She didn’t care if he was a stranger, not when she could feel his strong arms holding her tightly.

Lydia might have joined Lotta’s fun house because she had a sexual need --which the boys she knew couldn’t satisfy-- but none of the men she was with stopped her hunger. Her body burned as she sat there, and for a second she pondered about running out of the building, wondering if it would look as ridiculous as she felt in that moment.

She forgot all about her escape as she noticed someone moving next to her, and as she cast a glance at the newcomer she had to hold her breath so not to moan as she discovered it was the mysterious man.

“I couldn’t help noticing the way you invited me over with your eyes,” he said in a calm, but rough voice.

Lydia sipped her drink, avoiding him as long as possible. “I didn’t,” she replied and faced him again, regretting it at once as his eyes swallowed her. His gaze felt strong when they were in separate parts of the room, but up close his eyes sent chill after chill down her body before her temperature increasing until she feared her body would ignite itself. A fantasy of his hands on her body filled her mind, which forced her to look away.

“Well, maybe it was simply the way you stared at me, as if you wanted me.” Lydia wondered if it was that obvious, only to tell herself that she was foolish for thinking he could see it, he was clearly flirting. She wondered what he would do if he knew who she was, and what she worked as. Of course, being a pleasure girl, or a former one at least, she was used to seeing men only once, so if she had invited him to her bed and he was gone the next day it wouldn’t have bothered her. So why do I feel the sadness when I think about never seeing him again? Maybe it was the way he watched her with the intensity which made her knees weak and her her heart go faster, as if she was a young girl in love again. It wasn’t love, no, it was something else, a craving unlike any other she had felt, and it scared her.

She took another sip of her drink, feeling foolish for the fire that had grown inside her. “Want is such a strong word, I was simply wondering who you were.” Liar! Want could barely cover the emotions which passed through her at that moment.

She regretted asking him about his name as soon as the words left her lips, especially as it gave him an opportunity to ask for hers. “I’m Peter Hale,” the man said, his crooked smile sending pleasing tingles through her body over and over again till her skin prickled. She took a long look at his face, his eyes blue, his skin lightly tanned, and his face covered with scruffy looking stubbles. Combined with the intensity of his glare, and his dark outfit, he looked like the perfect thief, who would steal both gold and the hearts of girls. “And your name is?”

“None of your business,” she replied with a smile, wondering what his response would be.

“Aren’t you something,” he said in an amused tone. “Care to let me buy you a drink?”

“Once I’m done with this I’m going home, so it will be wasted.” She took a third sip, larger than the previous ones as she feared what she would do if she stayed with him for much longer.

“Such a shame.”

“You can always ask one of the other girls in here,” she suggested.

“Why would I do such a thing, as none of the others intrigue me like you do.” She watched him closely, not certain what to make of his behaviour. His intense glare continued to send tingles through her body. She hoped he wasn’t able to see just how excited she was by his presence, by standing so close to him. She let her eyes wander down his body, knowing he was fully aware of her taking him in. “Do you find me uninteresting?” Lydia doubted he was serious, but it would be impolite not to reply.

“Not uninteresting,” she said and took one last sip of her glass of rum. There was still some left, but Lydia wanted to leave as she feared she would invite him to spend the night with her if she stayed. “Well, I have to go now.”

“What me to follow you home?”

“No, that will be fine, I’m not afraid of the dark.” He smiled and nodded as she said goodbye, Lydia imagined he watched her until she left the saloon, which is something she would have done herself, if the roles were reversed. She held her breath as she walked further and further away from the saloon, releasing it slowly when she was so far away that nobody were able to hear her strange gasp of excitement.

Peter wasn’t the first to approach her as she took a drink in the saloon, but he was the first who interested her so much she would have paid him to have sex with her.

Taking deep breaths she returned home, looking forward to lie down in her bed after she had taking a routine checkup with the girls. Only one of the male guests protested, but quickly left as Lydia threatened to ban him forever.

When everything was taken care of she went to bed, her mind still on the stranger as her hand moved down her body, between her legs, and into the hot cave which she wished was filled by him. It was wishful thinking, but in that moment all she care about was the fantasies of him kissing her, of him taking her until she was exhausted. Coming, she closed her eyes and thought back at the saloon, wondering if he found someone else the moment she left. It shouldn’t matter, but Lydia found herself jealous as she imagined the stranger occupied with someone else that night.

Tired, she rolled around the bed until she found the perfect position. Then she closed her eyes and fell asleep.